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Hells Angels Chief Soars as Buddies Fall : Gangs: George Christie Jr. has lectured in schools on ethics, sold his story to Hollywood and been acquitted of murder for hire.

August 25, 1991|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a decade, Hells Angels spokesman George Christie Jr. has cultivated the image of an upstanding citizen whose motorcycle gang has been harassed by law enforcement and whose own Ventura chapter is squeaky clean.

Christie ran a leg of the Olympic Torch charity relay in 1984. He hosted a barbecue for jurors after his murder-for-hire acquittal in 1987. He was a guest speaker in Ventura high school and college classes last year on the ethics of journalists and prosecutors.

He has sold his story to Hollywood, and a producer says the movie will portray Christie as a modern-day folk hero whose indomitable spirit withstood an abuse of power by federal authorities.

But even as Christie has become the icon of Hells Angels respectability--married for 24 years to his high school sweetheart and never convicted of a crime--the Angels closest to him have fallen one by one to criminal charges, records show.

David Ortega, 46, vice president of the Angels' Ventura chapter, is in state prison after pleading guilty this year to possession of methamphetamine. Federal prosecutors have confiscated his Ventura house, concluding that drugs were sold from it before a 1988 raid that netted more than five ounces of methamphetamine and $5,000 in cash.

Jim Clark, 48, a veteran Angel, has been jailed twice since 1988 for alleged possession of methamphetamine, including more than an ounce found strapped inside his sock. A probation report says that he admitted netting about $1,000 a month selling the drug before 1988 and that he said drugs were sold from the Angels' Ventura clubhouse. Clark insists he never made the last statement.

Daniel Fabricant, 43, identified by Ventura County Sheriff's Department informants as an Angel "prospect" who sought admission to the Ventura chapter, remains in state prison after being convicted of methamphetamine possession in 1986 and 1990. He was acquitted in 1987, along with Christie, of conspiring to hire the founder of the Mexican Mafia prison gang to kill a government informant who provided details about alleged drug sales by the Ventura chapter.

Angel Tom Heath, 44, was convicted last year of battery after punching a woman at the Top Hat hamburger stand in downtown Ventura. He shot a man in 1982, but an attempted murder charge was dropped.

Christie, Clark, Ortega and Heath are the core of the small Ventura chapter. A local prosecutor says it has just five or six members. A state crime analyst puts membership at between five and 10, including prospects.

Police say the Angels have kept a low profile in Ventura County since Christie, now a 44-year-old martial arts instructor, helped found the local chapter in 1978.

"They've taken the position right from the start that if they don't screw up in Ventura very much, there'll be no reason for the police to hassle them," Police Chief Richard Thomas said. "And that has been pretty much the case. The Hells Angels locally have been involved in very few provable criminal incidents."

But federal agents and sheriff's investigators repeatedly have maintained that local Angels and their associates were involved in drug distribution during the 1980s, according to search warrants and court records.

"Members of the Hells Angels club were definitely very active in the methamphetamine trade," said Sheriff's Sgt. Gary Pentis, who investigated Fabricant in 1986 and Ortega and Clark in 1988, when all three were found with substantial quantities of narcotics.

"There's been a lot of press that has really soured stomachs in the law enforcement community, which knows what's happening behind the scene," Pentis said.

Nationwide, the Hells Angels are identified by federal authorities as the country's principal supplier of methamphetamine, a powerful drug also called speed, crank and ice that is cheap and easily made.

The image-conscious Angels often control drug distribution at arm's length through prospects and associates, state and federal investigators say. For each of the estimated 800 Angels in the country, there are 10 associates who do their bidding, agents say.

Christie, though refusing to be interviewed by The Times, said: "There are individuals who have done things, and individuals who haven't. But the club as a whole is not involved in illegal activities."

His statement summarizes the Hells Angels position for two decades, as numerous members of the nation's largest motorcycle gang have been convicted on charges of selling drugs.

Christie repeated the point last year when confronted by "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace about the gang's role in the spread of illegal methamphetamine nationwide.

At one point, Wallace produced a set of Hells Angels bylaws taken in a 1987 federal raid in Northern California where 30 pounds of methamphetamine and $3 million in cash were found. One bylaw stated that Angels should not "burn" drug buyers and would be expelled if they did.

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